The prospect of large scale metals mining still looms in Wisconsin because ore deposits are claimed by multinational corporations who would like to extract the profits. The mining industry touts jobs at the mines and local economic development. But mines represent boom for imported workers followed by bust for the local economy when closed. Sulfide ore bodies will inevitably produce large quantities of sulfuric acid when pulverized and exposed to water and air. The Wisconsin ore bodies are 70% sulfide, so the acid generation potential is as high or higher than anywhere in the world. Wisconsin has not yet experienced it, but everywhere massive sulfide ores have been mined and processed has suffered environmental damage from the acid, the dissolved heavy metals, and the processing chemicals, including sodium cyanide.
When examples of metal sulfide mines that allegedly haven’t polluted were provided by the industry, none were owned or operated by the latest owner of the proposed Crandon mine on the headwaters of the wild and scenic Wolf River, although BHP-Billiton, the worlds largest, with headquarters in Australia, operates mines all over the world. The couple of mines that were submitted as examples were in ore bodies of less than 5% sulfide, and with groundwater aquifers either permanently frozen in permafrost or far removed from the mine and tailings in bone-dry desert. The industry likes to cite the partially mined, currently closed ore body under and adjacent to our own Flambeau River as an example of the bright clean future that’s in store for us. But the gold-rich ore removed from the Flambeau Mine was not processed there. It was shipped as is, directly out of the country. The profits and the tailings are long gone and outa here. In the future, we’ll get to keep the tailings.
A bill that would require mine extraction and processing facilities to abide by the same regulations regarding toxic waste disposal and groundwater protection that apply to all other industries in Wisconsin was opposed by the mining transnationals. This reasonable bill passed the State Senate, despite Senator Panzer and Senator Darling’s no vote. But although it was introduced in the Assembly by two Republican members, it was bottled up by Neal Kedzie in committee and never got to the Assembly floor for a vote. This and other related bills will be re-introduced in the next session and the chances of becoming law look good.
It’s doubtful whether the Crandon mine proposal will receive the permits necessary to proceed. Whether or not it does, long and costly litigation will almost certainly result. The mining industry knows that the political climate now favors closing the loopholes and exemptions in state law their lobbyists have quietly crafted for them over the last two decades.
Accordingly, a proposal has surfaced, emanating from an industry lobbyist, that a buyout of the Crandon site be engineered. This proposal has the support of Governor McCallum, and has received favorable comments from the mining company itself. The Wisconsin Stewardship Fund which is designed for just this sort of purpose, along with several private sources, would negotiate and offer to acquire the Wolf River Headwater Protection Purchase.
This is a great opportunity to protect a beautiful Wisconsin jewel from irreversible damage and to encourage sustainable economic growth rather than a boom and bust cycle, with virtually no impact on the state budget. The Stewardship Fund is already funded into the future by issued bonds. It’s just a matter of deciding which properties to acquire. It opens the door to tourism and recreational opportunities on and adjacent to this 5000 acres of Wild and Scenic River headwaters, while closing the door on costly litigation and pollution like we’ve never before seen here.